Trump's options vs ISIS; Meeting with UK’s May; Tomorrow, talks with Putin, maybe Merkel; F-35’s changing price; Submarine costs targeted; and just a bit more...
President Trump drops by the Pentagon this afternoon for his first trip as commander in chief. There, he’ll attend the “ceremonial swearing-in of [Defense Secretary James] Mattis and [Trump] is expected to sign the new directives and have a short meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” The New York Times reports.
Among the chief topics of discussion: options for escalating the war against the Islamic State. AP reports this involves at least five key components: (1) adding a brigade of soldiers—NYTs writes it could come from a division like the 82nd Airborne—for an offensive on ISIS-held Raqqa, Syria; (2) directly arming Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters; (3) adding more Apache attack helicopters for close-air support to troops on the ground; (4) giving more flexibility to launch attacks from the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS); and granting U.S. commanders “broader authority to make routine combat decisions,” a move the Times says is intended “to speed up decision-making.”
It’s unclear what will be done with Trump’s intentions for implementing a “safe zone” in Syria. All that’s known so far is based off Trump’s past safe zone remarks and “a draft executive order obtained by The New York Times [that] calls for Mr. Mattis, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to produce a plan within 90 days for safe zones in Syria.”
Such plans inevitably carry great risk, The Wall Street Journal reports, adding that the Pentagon said Thursday it has not yet been asked for any.
“Publicly, defense officials have been reluctant to discuss the president's initiative,” Military Times’ Andrew deGrandpre reported Thursday. "But privately, some Defense Department officials are using words like 'ambiguous' to describe Trump's plan, questioning whether the new administration envisions building secure camps for Syrian refugees, establishing no-fly zones — or both."
Among some of the key questions lingering: “What specific territory would U.S. troops be asked to secure? From whom would they be protecting the refugees? How does Trump even define protection? Should American commanders tasked with securing these safe zones be prepared to intercept or shoot down any Russian or Syrian aircraft that breach such these safe zones?”
Pentagon reax: “Let’s give [SecDef Mattis] a chance to see what is even in them,” Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters. "Let's give this a chance to develop, and we'll see what the guidance is, and we'll carry out the guidance." More here.
Meantime in Syria, the next phase of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva (February 8) have been postponed, Russia’s foreign minister said this morning “without explaining what's behind the postponement,” AP reports, adding this note: “Syrian rebel factions fighting to oust President Bashar Assad had declined an invitation to attend, raising doubts the Moscow meeting could offer anything beyond another Syria discussion panel.”
And one last thing about Trump’s Pentagon visit today: he’s expected to “review of the United States nuclear posture — one that retains all three legs of the nuclear arsenal with weapons aboard bombers and submarines and in underground missile silos — as well as a review of how to achieve the president’s goal of fielding a ‘state of the art’ antimissile system,” NYTs writes.
Trump, Putin, May, Merkel? Before Trump heads to the Pentagon, he’ll meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May. Over at Foreign Policy’s new Shadow Government page, Jim Townshend and Julie Smith have a good rundown on what the U.S. and UK leaders want to get out of their first meeting. (E.g.: “Trump will need to say something reassuring to America’s closest ally about U.S. intent in Europe. If he can’t do that, one of the most important outcomes of the NATO Summit last July will unravel, as allies will balk at sending troops to the Baltics if the United States is absent.”) Read it, here.
This weekend, May heads to Turkey to see President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rudaw reports.
And Trump? He’s slated to talk by phone on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What’s on the docket? Via Reuters: White House aide Kellyanne Conway told CBS' "This Morning": "I assume they will discuss, in the interests of their respective countries, how to come together and work together on issues where you can find common ground and where these two nations could maybe defeat radical Islamic terrorism."
Fabrice Pothier, the policy chief for NATO’s Secretary General in 2010-16, is hearing something else: “DC sources say that Trump admin has an executive order ready to lift Russia sanctions….If confirmed, would be biggest upset for years of patient Western efforts to stop revanchist Russia. Important for Congress and Europe to react.”
Saturday may also hold a call with another allied leader. “German Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to speak with U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday and the conversation is expected to focus on Russia, a source familiar with the matter” told a Berlin-based reporter. A bit more from Reuters, here.
From Defense One
The Price of an F-35 Was Already Falling. Can Trump Drive it Lower? // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense One analyzed the changing cost of the JSF since the first production orders were placed in 2007. Here's what we found.
Exclusive: The Super Secure Presidential Phone (That Trump May Not Be Using) // Patrick Tucker: A military program has created an Android-based smartphone that goes with the office of the President. Is Trump using it?
'Even a Shining City on a Hill Needs Walls': Senator Tom Cotton // Jeffrey Goldberg: A Republican hawk acclimates to the Trump presidency—and threatens to reconsider the One China policy.
The Dangerous Delusion of 'We Should've Kept the Oil' // Andrew Exum: The president has said he wants to support the troops, but his careless comments put U.S. lives at risk in Iraq.
Global Business Brief: January 26 // Marcus Weisgerber: Will Trump invest in defense, or security?; Defense firms report mixed earnings; One-on-one with the former CAPE director; and more.
Interview: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson // Defense One Staff: The CNO talked with Defense One editor Kevin Baron on Jan. 17, in the first D Brief LIVE event.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1962, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara forwarded a memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to President Kennedy urging the deployment of American forces to Vietnam. On the same day 11 years later, State Secretary Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese diplomat, Lê Đức Thọ, signed the Paris Peace Accords, a beginning of the end for the Vietnam War. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
Duterte to rebels: please don’t ally with ISIS. In the Philippines, where the government has been waging (with varying amounts of American help) a decades-long war against Muslim separatists, pugnacious President Rodrigo Duterte is trying a new tack: pleading with them. (Specifically, two of the larger groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.) “His appeal comes a day after his defense minister said foreign intelligence reports showed a leader of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group was getting instructions from Islamic State to expand in the Philippines, in the strongest sign yet of links to the Middle Eastern militants,” Reuters reports.
Meanwhile, a counterinsurgency offensive in southern Lanao del Sur province, featuring artillery and hundreds of troops, appears to have wounded Isnilon Hapilon, an ISIS-affiliated preacher and separatist leader. AP reports that Hapilon “an Arabic-speaking Islamic preacher known for his expertise on commando assaults, has been indicted in the District of Columbia for alleged involvement in attacks on Americans and other foreigners in the southern Philippines.” More, here.
President Trump vowed last night to buy submarines more cheaply. Talking to Fox News’ Sean Hannity, he said, "Our military is more important to me than a balanced budget...We're lacking submarines and we're going to build new submarines but the price is too high so I'm cutting the prices way down."
Adds Reuters: “Two U.S.-based companies, General Dynamics Corp's Electric Boat division and Huntington Ingalls Industries' Newport News Shipbuilding, build the Navy's nuclear-powered submarines. Neither General Dynamics nor Huntington Ingalls immediately responded to a request for comment.”
For what it’s worth: between Election Day and January 3, the biggest gainers in defense stocks were Huntington Ingalls (up 26.9 percent) and General Dynamics (up 15.1 percent), Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reported.
The U.S. Navy is getting new “green cammies,” among “several other uniform updates [that] are on track to be released this fall,” Stars and Stripes reports. Get the skinny on what to expect if you wear the uniform, via an post from back in the fall, here.
Russia has now arrested three individuals this week it has accused of being U.S. spies. “After news broke on Wednesday of the arrest of Sergei Mikhailov, the agency’s top cyber expert, two other FSB officers were reported under arrest for the same charge on Thursday – meaning either the U.S. had a ring of infiltrators deep inside Russian security services, or Russia has a trick up its sleeve,” The Daily Beast reports.
Adds USA Today: “Stoyanov allegedly developed a program introduced into a prominent bank's computer system to gather privileged information on customers, REN-TV reports. That information, it reports, was then sold to the West. In another twist, Russian media says the FSB believes Mikhailov tipped U.S. intelligence about Vladimir Fomenko and his server rental company ‘King Servers.’ The U.S. cybersecurity company Threat Connect identified King Servers last year as an ‘information nexus’ used by hackers suspected of working for Russian intelligence in cyberattacks on electoral systems in Arizona and Illinois. The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta says Mikhailov was arrested during an FSB meeting in early December when officers came into the room, put a bag over his head and took him away.”
Worth noting: “The cause of the arrests was not clear. The newspaper said only that the FSB discovered Mikhailov's alleged involvement in the purported plot after the U.S. accused King Servers of the cyberattacks on the U.S.” More here.
The more you know, fun word Friday edition: In 17th-century English, a “carpet captain” was a soldier better at seducing women than fighting. (Source: @HaggardHawks)
The U.S. Air Force is working with commercial airlines to fill pilot shortages for commercial and military aircraft, Stars and Stripes’ Tara Copp reports: “One idea discussed was to bring more predictability to Air Force Reserve commitments, so a pilot could have a successful reserve and commercial career. Other ideas included potential adjustments to required flight hours pilots need to join a commercial airline, debt forgiveness and other quality-of-life changes that would help both sectors.” Story here.
For your eyes only: While we stand by for the first official meeting between President Trump and his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto — talks which were called off after the U.S. leader insisted that Mexico would foot the bill for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — here’s a 6-minute video of all 1,964 miles of it, from Josh Begley of The Intercept.
And finally—recognizing history: This week, the World War II headquarters for the Office of Strategic Services on Navy Hill—which also served as the first CIA HQ—in Washington, D.C., was added to the National Register of Historic Places. More on the long struggle for recognition, via the Washington Post, here.